Review: Halcyon 6: Lightspeed Edition04 Sep 2017 1
Review: Halcyon 6: Lightspeed Edition
Released 10 Aug 2017
Star Trek left an indelible mark on pop culture and sci-fi. It was the first big TV series to boldly go where no one had gone before, so you can hardly escape space exploration works without at least some of its tropes. Star Wars doesn't really have that vibe: the universe is very much explored – save for the Outer Rim – settled and fought over. So it is no surprise that Halcyon 6 is heavily inspired by – and pokes fun at - Star Trek. And here I thought the title was inspired by J. Michael Straczynski's opus Babylon 5...
You are the commanding officer of the (human) Federation team aboard the ancient (and mysterious) space station of Halcyon 6. Unfortunately, you have that position only because everyone above you in the chain of command got wiped out by the invading Chruul, freaky new aliens in monstrous biological ships. As the last, best hope for peace bloody vengeance, you find that the station has rapid ship manufacturing capabilities. Your task is to reactivate it, expand it, forge diplomatic ties with freaky old aliens and reclaim mankind's place among the stars. Your officers will fight till the last shot and the last green-shirted cadet!
It would be an understatement to say that Halcyon draws heavily on Star Trek to deliver its gameplay and humour. For example, your officers (heroes) come in three flavours: engineers (orange), tactical (red) and science (blue). Since Kirk was such a badass, your engineers will dominate ship to ship engagements. And if you don't have an officer handy, a cadet might take their place in the line of battle, which usually leads to their deaths. Cadets are ablative wounds, you see.
Both space and (much less frequent) ground combat work along the same lines. You have up to three ships/soldiers, the enemy has up to three boats/stormtroopers. Your forces are arrayed on the left side of the screen, their's to the right. Speed stat determines a soldier's position in the initiative tracker. At least my scientists seem to be fastest, firing off buffs or disabling enemy ships before they manage to do anything. A combatant can use one skill or a consumable item and a skill per turn – and some of powerful skills have not only cooldown, but a warm-up, too. Most attacks are followed by over-the-top animations before damage and any effects are applied.
Oh my God, the effects. Many attacks in the game either inflict or exploit status effects. You can, say, disrupt the enemy weapons with an ability that the Tactical ship provides, and follow up with an attack by the Science vessel that deals additional damage to targets that have their weapons disrupted. There are trade offs, though, as exploiting an effect ends it immediately. You must also be mindful of the fact that your officer classes inflict different effects: Tacticals, for example, are keen to grant “Weapon disabled” and “Engines Down”, while exploiting “Vulnerable.” And you will want to have an enemy with their engines down to drop them down in the initiative scale – as well as grant ridiculous damage bonuses to Engineer's RAMMING SPEED ability.
Stripping half the enemy ship's health by using your engineering cruiser as a blunt instrument never gets old. It's not as fun when the enemy does the combo to you!
However, the battles are so quick and happen so often that the act of fighting does get boring at times, and you start rushing. The game tries to mix it it up by throwing a variety of enemies – in terms of factions, too - at you with different abilities as well as resistances or vulnerabilities to status effects. You will also have to be mindful of battlefield conditions that usually apply total resistance to some effects. RAMMING SPEED still remains an awesome option, though!
So you can't have one winning strategy that you will apply to every battle – that's why you can switch around some combat powers before (space) battles. You can even have three presets! There's also the fact that each tier of each class of the ship has two competing types. I do stick with the same “family” (I take ships that have more evasion and speed all the time) as the new ships are unlocked through the tiers. The officer classes also come in some variation, so you can have a lot of variety from just mixing ships with pilots. Also, as ships fight in battle, they gain elite crew that give them minor bonuses while your officers advance in levels and gain skills (which you can decide) and quirks (which you can't).
Of course, there are ways to gain experience besides fighting, and that includes hard manual labour. Your officers will gradually free up spaces on the base (think XCOM) by exploring derelict areas, where they might run into hostile animals. They might also do more prosaic work, like researching ship upgrades, replicating materials (and unlucky cadets) and so on. Each task has a needed skill – those being tactics, engineering and science – for completion. Any officer of any class of the required level can tackle a task, but a competent one will do it a lot faster.
Officer qualities (or even built base rooms) will sometimes effect the short text adventures that can crop up now and then. Halcyon 6: is big, full of dangerous places, home to hostile fauna, and things can happen evem during the normal operation of the station. Those are always short, three to five window affairs, even if some will have aftereffects a lot a later. They also serve as a good vehicle to deliver the comedy content.
Stuff that happens outside the station (so, most of the game) us managed in the campaign map, which reminds me of Ur-Quan Masters. However, you can't fly freely. You choose a location, then send a fleet. If you're sending a fleet from Halcyon, you will be able to change its composition, equip consumables and repair hulls. If the fleet is already partying somewhere in space, then you can only retask it. A node can have a combat encounter – space combatants and all of their details are visible on campaign map – or some mission or task. Useful nodes allow you to establish, upgrade and even evacuate colonies, which are your resource generators.
In fact, it's useful to have one runt officer running around upgrading said colonies (especially with the resource gathering drones, so that you wouldn't have to manually collect resources) while the cooler guys with flashier ships are out kicking the Chruul equivalent of ass. Fleets need to return to base to make repairs and restore their healing abilities, which are limited so as to put some tension into timed missions!
And all of this is intertwined with humour. Each officer you hire will have a hilarious (and dramatic) background that will make you want to reroll your hiring pool to have more to read. Interaction with aliens are all just great riffs on Star Trek tropes while also establishing their own flavour. The afore mentioned text missions and adventures never fail to be funny. And while some of the jokes in the game are a little on the nose – engineers have a ground combat ability called “The Kirkish Haymaker” - you cannot not appreciate the fact that Halcyon's fuel plants... are plants (leaves and all that) that produce fuel for your ships.
The game's art is as good as the writing, too. I love the pixel art aesthetics, and we're all lucky that indie resurgence made it acceptable again. I still remember the days when all games had to be 3D because 2D was the wave of the past! Anyways, the backgrounds, the ships, the animations, the alien talking heads – all of them of them are well drawn and executed. If I had criticism for anything, it would be that the campaign map sometimes looks a little basic. I mean, for all the beauty of Ur-Quan Masters, having a campaign map reminiscent of a 1992 classic is not desireable. Meanwhile, the sound part is entirely... decent. There's no voice acting, so there's not bad voice acting, and the rest is generally competent, if not exciting.
Halcyon 6: Lightspeed Edition is a great space station game. The battles do come a little thick at times, which drives down the engagement in any individual one down, but it's still a hard to put down game. The references to Star Trek are well made without overshadowing the main point of the game: RAMMING SPEED!